Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Living with Hawaii’s volcanic emissions (VOG)

While living in Hilo we had some intense days of volcanic emissions (VOG) , usually when the trade winds were not blowing.  But in Kona, we have varying levels of VOG almost every day. The VOG, which consists of sulfuric compounds (like sulfuric dioxide), ash and particles, has been shown to cause health effects in children, whose lungs are still growing, and individuals with conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Many of the people with respiratory conditions have moved away from the heaviest VOG areas on the southern part of the island or to the mainland.

A study released in 2009 showed an increase in emergency room visits in Kona and Ka’u during days when increased SO2 and particulate matter were measured in the air. Studies of similar pollutants have shown that the types of aerosols being emitted by the volcano can degrade lung function and compromise the immune system. We were surprised to learn that mercury is also produced by Kilauea and has been detected as far away as Oahu.  Though some people have no reaction, heavy VOG days can bring on a range of physical symptoms for others including breathing problems, a prickly sensation, watery eyes, a feeling of pressure on the chest, bronchitis, headaches, low energy, and asthma attack.

On heavy VOG days in Hilo we saw our solar panel output cut by up to 50%.  In Kona, heavy VOG days can drop the temperature of the swimming pool up to 4 degrees and it seems to be keeping Kona much cooler overall.  VOG doesn't distribute itself evenly across Kona. We are fortunate that our location near the water tends to get less VOG build up than the higher altitudes above us.  On extremely heavy VOG days we know we should stay indoors and turn on the AC or use an air purifier.   We monitor the air quality and output of the volcano by looking at the island-wide SO2 monitor and the live web cam of the volcano.  

Kilauea shows no sign of letting up on its continuous eruption and elevated volcanic emissions.  We have come to accept the VOG as a part of living on the island of Hawaii and hope that more studies will focus on how to be healthy living near a volcano.


FLAresident said...

It's unfortunate that the price of living in paradise is a pair of black lungs.

Lucy2010 said...

Excellent idea - I've gone back and added pronunciations to this and the previous. Jökulhlaup is pretty tough, though - I'm sure I don't say it correctly, but I'll have to wait until one of the other grads comes back from Iceland and get him to say it for me before I can really get it down.

mother earth

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